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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Inchbald’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Mary Wells (Actress)
16 December 1762 – 23 January 1829

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Mary Wells

Mary Wells was the daughter of Thomas Davies, a carver and gilder in Birmingham, and was born there on 16 December 1762. Her father died in a madhouse while she was a small child. Her mother kept a tavern frequented by actors, and among others by Richard Yates, under whose management Mary appeared at the Birmingham Theatre as the young Duke of York in Richard III, playing subsequently Cupid in William Whitehead’s Trip to Scotland, and Arthur in King John. After visiting Bath and York she went to Gloucester, where she played Juliet to the Romeo of an actor named Wells, to whom she was married in St. Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury. Wells shortly afterwards deserted her.

On 1 June 1781, as Madge in Isaac Bickerstaffe’s Love in a Village and Mrs. Cadwallader in Samuel Foote’s Author, she made her first appearance at the Haymarket. John Genest says that she was excellent in both characters. Jenny in Lionel and Clarissa (Bickerstaffe) followed, and on 3 September in John O’Keeffe’s Agreeable Surprise she was the first Cowslip, a name that stuck to her (though she is occasionally spoken of as ‘Becky’ Wells). Genest wrote that nothing could be superior to her acting as Cowslip and that of John Edwin as Lingo.

On 25 September, as Nancy in Love in a Camp, she made her first appearance at Drury Lane, where also she played on 29 October. Jenny in the Gentle Shepherd, adapted from Allan Ramsay by Richard Tickell. Harriet in the Jealous Wife, Widow O’Grady in the Irish Widow, Flora in She Would and She Would Not (Colley Cibber), and Jacintha in the Suspicious Husband followed. At the Haymarket in 1782 her name appears to Molly in the English Merchant and Bridget in the Chapter of Accidents (Sophia Lee). She also, as she says, replaced Mrs. Cargill, who had eloped, as Macheath in the Beggar’s Opera, with the male characters played by women and vice versa. She made a distinguished success, and was received with great enthusiasm. She played at Drury Lane Kitty Pry in The Lying Valet, and Jane Shore on 30 April 1783, her first appearance in tragedy. At the Haymarket she was on 6 July 1784 the original Fanny in Elizabeth Inchbald’s Mogul’s Tale, on 6 September the first Maud in O’Keeffe’s Peeping Tom, the eponymous Isabella, and Lady Randolph in Douglas.

Nancy Buttercup, an original part in O’Keeffe’s Beggar on Horseback, was seen at the Haymarket on 16 June 1785. On 14 December she made her first appearance at Covent Garden as Jane Shore (in her own opinion, her best performance), playing also Laura in Edward Topham’s farce The Fool, which her acting commended to the public. After repeating Lady Randolph and Isabella, she was on 5 January 1786 Imogen in Cymbeline; William Woodfall in the Morning Chronicle awarded her praise for the performance. Andromache in the Distressed Mother (Ambrose Philips) followed, and was succeeded by Shakespearean heroines (Rosalind, Portia), and Fidelia in the Plain Dealer; and she was on 24 April the first Eugenia in The Bird in a Cage, or Money works Wonders, altered from James Shirley. At the Haymarket in 1786 she played some unimportant original parts. When John Palmer made in 1787 his trial effort at the Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square, she gave her imitations of Mrs. Siddons and other actresses, and was paid £50 a night.
She came back to Covent Garden, where she was on 17 September 1787 Mrs. Page in the Merry Wives of Windsor and played Lady Percy, Lady in Comus, Rosina, Anne Lovely, and Fatima in Cymon. Here she remained some time, acting in the summer at Cheltenham, Brighton, and Weymouth, where she was favoured by royalty.

Her domestic affairs became complicated. She had entered into close relations with Edward Topham, a captain in the Guards, who was concerned in a daily newspaper called the World, in the production of which she assisted. She had also backed bills for a considerable amount for her brother-in-law, the husband of a Miss Davies (who appeared at the Haymarket on 28 July 1786 as Amelia in the English Merchant). This guarantee involved her in endless trouble. More than once she was a prisoner in the Fleet Prison and in other places.

In the Fleet she met Joseph Sumbel, her second husband, who was confined there for contempt of court. Sumbel was a Sephardic Jew, secretary to the ambassador from Morocco, and the wedding was performed in the Fleet. A year later he sought unsuccessfully to have the marriage annulled or dissolved, declaring that she was not his wife; she meanwhile had embraced Judaism and taken the name of Leah. She subsequently became a Catholic or Methodist.

She does not seem to have acted much later than 1790, though she gave her imitations at private houses; and once attempted to give them publicly during Lent, but was prevented by the bishop of London.

She spent her later years in lodgings with her aged mother. She also applied to the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund, and received an annuity of £55 until her death in London on 23 January 1829. She was buried in St Pancras, London.

She published in 1811 ‘Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sumbel, late Wells, of the Theatres Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and Haymarket, written by herself,’ (London, 3 vols.) The three volumes of this rambling autobiography are occupied principally with details of travels in search of her children, who refused to know her, or of friends. The remainder stock seems to have received a new title-page in 1828, when it appeared as ‘Anecdotes and Correspondence of Celebrated Actors and Actresses, including Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kemble, Mr. Colman, Mrs. Siddons, &c. Also an Account of the Awful Death of Lord Lyttelton.’

Her portrait, in the character of Cowslip in the ‘Agreeable Surprise,’ was engraved by John Downman (Bromley, p. 447). A portrait of her by Dewilde, as Anne Lovely in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Wife,’ is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. An engraving by J. R. Smith from his own picture of her as Cowslip was published by Ackerman in 1802.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Mary Wollstonecraft
1777 – March 31 1844

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Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 in Spitalfields, London. She was the second of the seven children of Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Although her family had a comfortable income when she was a child, her father gradually squandered it on speculative projects. Consequently, the family became financially unstable and they were frequently forced to move during Wollstonecraft’s youth.

The family’s financial situation eventually became so dire that Wollstonecraft’s father compelled her to turn over money that she would have inherited at her maturity. Moreover, he was apparently a violent man who would beat his wife in drunken rages. As a teenager, Wollstonecraft used to lie outside the door of her mother’s bedroom to protect her. Wollstonecraft played a similar maternal role for her sisters, Everina and Eliza, throughout her life. For example, in a defining moment in 1784, she convinced Eliza, who was suffering from what was probably postpartum depression, to leave her husband and infant; Wollstonecraft made all of the arrangements for Eliza to flee, demonstrating her willingness to challenge social norms. The human costs, however, were severe: her sister suffered social condemnation and, because she could not remarry, was doomed to a life of poverty and hard work.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship… I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.” In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life.

The second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, a couple in Hoxton who became parental figures to her; Wollstonecraft credited Blood with opening her mind. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787). In 1780 she returned home, called back to care for her dying mother. Rather than return to Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods. She realized during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealized Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to her and her family throughout her life (she frequently gave pecuniary assistance to Blood’s brother, for example).

Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities. In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green, a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon, Portugal to improve her health, which had always been precarious. Despite the change of surroundings Blood’s health further deteriorated when she became pregnant, and in 1785 Wollstonecraft left the school and followed Blood to nurse her, but to no avail. Moreover, her abandonment of the school led to its failure. Blood’s death devastated Wollstonecraft and was part of the inspiration for her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788).

After Blood’s death, Wollstonecraft’s friends helped her obtain a position as governess to the daughters of the Anglo-Irish Kingsborough family in Ireland. Although she could not get along with Lady Kingsborough, the children found her an inspiring instructor; Margaret King would later say she “had freed her mind from all superstitions”. Some of Wollstonecraft’s experiences during this year would make their way into her only children’s book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788).

Frustrated by the limited career options open to respectable yet poor women—an impediment which Wollstonecraft eloquently describes in the chapter of Thoughts on the Education of Daughters entitled “Unfortunate Situation of Females, Fashionably Educated, and Left Without a Fortune”—she decided, after only a year as a governess, to embark upon a career as an author. This was a radical choice, since, at the time, few women could support themselves by writing. As she wrote to her sister Everina in 1787, she was trying to become “the first of a new genus”. She moved to London and, assisted by the liberal publisher Joseph Johnson, found a place to live and work to support herself. She learned French and German and translated texts, most notably Of the Importance of Religious Opinions by Jacques Necker and Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann. She also wrote reviews, primarily of novels, for Johnson’s periodical, the Analytical Review. Wollstonecraft’s intellectual universe expanded during this time, not only from the reading that she did for her reviews but also from the company she kept: she attended Johnson’s famous dinners and met such luminaries as the radical pamphleteer Thomas Paine and the philosopher William Godwin. The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject. Johnson himself, however, became much more than a friend; she described him in her letters as a father and a brother.

While in London, Wollstonecraft pursued a relationship with the artist Henry Fuseli, even though he was already married. She was, she wrote, enraptured by his genius, “the grandeur of his soul, that quickness of comprehension, and lovely sympathy”. She proposed a platonic living arrangement with Fuseli and his wife, but Fuseli’s wife was appalled, and he broke off the relationship with Wollstonecraft. After Fuseli’s rejection, Wollstonecraft decided to travel to France to escape the humiliation of the incident, and to participate in the revolutionary events that she had just celebrated in her recent Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790). She had written the Rights of Men in response to Edmund Burke’s conservative critique of the French Revolution in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and it made her famous overnight. She was compared with such leading lights as the theologian and controversialist Joseph Priestley and Paine, whose Rights of Man (1791) would prove to be the most popular of the responses to Burke. She pursued the ideas she had outlined in Rights of Men in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her most famous and influential work.

Wollstonecraft left for Paris in December 1792 and arrived about a month before Louis XVI was guillotined. France was in turmoil. She sought out other British visitors such as Helen Maria Williams and joined the circle of expatriates then in the city. Having just written the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft was determined to put her ideas to the test, and in the stimulating intellectual atmosphere of the French revolution she attempted her most experimental romantic attachment yet: she met and fell passionately in love with Gilbert Imlay, an American adventurer. Whether or not she was interested in marriage, he was not, and she appears to have fallen in love with an idealized portrait of the man. While Wollstonecraft had rejected the sexual component of relationships in the Rights of Woman, Imlay awakened her passions and her interest in sex. She soon became pregnant, and on 14 May 1794 she gave birth to her first child, Fanny, naming her after perhaps her closest friend. Wollstonecraft was overjoyed; she wrote to a friend: “My little Girl begins to suck so MANFULLY that her father reckons saucily on her writing the second part of the R[igh]ts of Woman” (emphasis hers). She continued to write avidly, despite not only her pregnancy and the burdens of being a new mother alone in a foreign country, but also the growing tumult of the French Revolution. While at Le Havre in northern France, she wrote a history of the early revolution, An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, which was published in London in December 1794.

As the political situation worsened, Britain declared war on France, placing all British subjects in France in considerable danger. To protect Wollstonecraft, Imlay registered her as his wife in 1793, even though they were not married. Some of her friends were not so lucky; many, like Thomas Paine, were arrested, and some were even guillotined. (Wollstonecraft’s sisters believed she had been imprisoned.) After she left France, she continued to refer to herself as “Mrs Imlay”, even to her sisters, in order to bestow legitimacy upon her child.

Imlay, unhappy with the domestic-minded and maternal Wollstonecraft, eventually left her. He promised that he would return to Le Havre where she went to give birth to her child, but his delays in writing to her and his long absences convinced Wollstonecraft that he had found another woman. Her letters to him are full of needy expostulations, explained by most critics as the expressions of a deeply depressed woman but by some as a result of her circumstances—alone with an infant in the middle of a revolution.

Seeking Imlay, Wollstonecraft returned to London in April 1795, but he rejected her. In May 1795 she attempted to commit suicide, probably with laudanum, but Imlay saved her life (although it is unclear how).

In a last attempt to win back Imlay, she embarked upon some business negotiations for him in Scandinavia, trying to recoup some of his losses. Wollstonecraft undertook this hazardous trip with only her young daughter and a maid. She recounted her travels and thoughts in letters to Imlay, many of which were eventually published as Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in 1796. When she returned to England and came to the full realisation that her relationship with Imlay was over, she attempted suicide for the second time, leaving a note for Imlay:

Let my wrongs sleep with me! Soon, very soon, I shall be at peace. When you receive this, my burning head will be cold… I shall plunge into the Thames where there is least chance of my being snatched from the death I seek. God bless you! May you never know by experience what you have made me endure. Should your sensibility ever awake, remorse will find its way to your heart; and, in the midst of business and sensual pleasure, I shall appear before you, the victim of your deviation from rectitude.

She then went out on a rainy night and “to make her clothes heavy with water, she walked up and down about half an hour” before jumping into the River Thames, but a stranger saw her jump and rescued her. Wollstonecraft considered her suicide attempt deeply rational, writing after her rescue,

I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery. But a fixed determination is not to be baffled by disappointment; nor will I allow that to be a frantic attempt, which was one of the calmest acts of reason. In this respect, I am only accountable to myself. Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other circumstances that I should be dishonoured.

Gradually, Wollstonecraft returned to her literary life, becoming involved with Joseph Johnson’s circle again, in particular with Mary Hays, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Sarah Siddons through William Godwin. Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s unique courtship began slowly, but it eventually became a passionate love affair. Godwin had read her Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark and later wrote that “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.” Once Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate. Their marriage revealed the fact that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imlay, and as a result she and Godwin lost many friends. Godwin received further criticism because he had advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise Political Justice. After their marriage on 29 March 1797, they moved into two adjoining houses, known as The Polygon, so that they could both still retain their independence; they often communicated by letter. By all accounts, theirs was a happy and stable, though brief, relationship.

On 30 August 1797, Wollstonecraft gave birth to her second daughter, Mary (Shelley). Although the delivery seemed to go well initially, the placenta broke apart during the birth and became infected; puerperal (childbed) fever was a common and often fatal occurrence in the eighteenth century. After several days of agony, Wollstonecraft died of septicaemia on 10 September.

Godwin was devastated: he wrote to his friend Thomas Holcroft, “I firmly believe there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.”

She was buried at Old Saint Pancras Churchyard, where her tombstone reads, “Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Born 27 April 1759: Died 10 September 1797.” (In 1851, her remains were moved by her grandson Percy Florence Shelley to his family tomb in Bournemouth.)

Her monument in the churchyard lies to the north-east of the church. Her husband was buried with her on his death in 1836.

This is a complete list of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works;

  • Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life. London: Joseph Johnson, 1787.
  • Mary: A Fiction. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • Original Stories from Real Life: With Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • Necker, Jacques. Of the Importance of Religious Opinions. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • The Female Reader: Or, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Verse; selected from the best writers, and disposed under proper heads; for the improvement of young women. By Mr. Cresswick, teacher of elocution [Mary Wollstonecraft]. To which is prefixed a preface, containing some hints on female education. London: Joseph Johnson, 1789.
  • de Cambon, Maria Geertruida van de Werken. Young Grandison. A Series of Letters from Young Persons to Their Friends. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • Salzmann, Christian Gotthilf. Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children; with an introductory address to parents. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects. London: Joseph Johnson, 1792.
  • “On the Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character in Women, with Strictures on Dr. Gregory’s Legacy to His Daughters”. New Annual Register (1792): 457–466. [From Rights of Woman]
  • An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution; and the Effect It Has produced in Europe. London: Joseph Johnson, 1794.
  • Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. London: Joseph Johnson, 1796.
  • “On Poetry, and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature”. Monthly Magazine (April 1797).
  • The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “The Cave of Fancy”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Letter on the Present Character of the French Nation”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Fragment of Letters on the Management of Infants”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Lessons”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Hints”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • Contributions to the Analytical Review (1788–1797)

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Elizabeth Inchbald
October 15 1753–August 1 1821

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Elizabeth Inchbald

Born on 15 October 1753 at Standingfield, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Elizabeth was the eighth of the nine children of John Simpson (died 1761), a farmer, and his wife Mary, née Rushbrook. The family, like several others in the neighbourhood was Roman Catholic. Elizabeth was educated with her sisters at home.

At the age of 19 she went to London in order to act. (Her brother George had become an actor in 1770.) Young and alone, she was apparently the victim of sexual harassment. In 1772 she agreed to marry a fellow Catholic, the actor Joseph Inchbald (1735–1779), possibly at least partially for protection. The marriage was reported to have had difficulties. For four years the couple toured Scotland with West Digges’s theatre company, a demanding life. In 1776 they moved to Liverpool and Inchbald met actors Sarah Siddons and her brother John Philip Kemble, both of whom became important friends. The Inchbalds subsequently moved to Canterbury and Yorkshire. After Joseph Inchbald’s death in 1779, Inchbald continued to act for several years, in Dublin, London, and elsewhere. Her acting career, while only moderately successful, spanned seventeen years and she appeared in many classical roles, as well as in new plays such as Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem.

Between 1784 and 1805 she had nineteen of her comedies, sentimental dramas, and farces (many of which were translations from the French) performed at London theatres. Eighteen of her plays were published, though she wrote several more; the exact number is in dispute though most recent commentators claim between 21 and 23. Her two novels have been frequently reprinted. She also did considerable editorial and critical work. Her literary start began with writing for The Artist and Edinburgh Review. A four-volume autobiography was destroyed before her death upon the advice of her confessor, but she left some of her diaries. The latter are currently held at the Folger Shakespeare Library and an edition was recently published.

Her play Lovers’ Vows (1798) was featured by Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park.

A political radical and friend of William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft, her political beliefs can more easily be found in her novels than in her plays due to the constrictive environment of the patent theatres of Georgian London. She died on 1 August 1821 in Kensington.

In recent decades Inchbald has been the subject of increasing critical interest, particularly among scholars interested in women’s writing.

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